Tag Archives: structural

When Truisms Lie

Friends,
Carpooling to work today, it was fitting that the conversation between the driver and myself drifted to the topic of Pearl Harbor.  Today is after all, the twelfth anniversary of another day that will live in infamy.

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When discussing the possibility that Pearl Harbor may have been allowed to happen to justify U.S. entrance into the war, the driver seemed skeptical and paraphrased Hanlon’s Razor:

“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

More accurately, he paraphrased an interpretation of that maxim from Sir Bernard Ingham:

“Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government.  I do assure you that they
would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.”
The basic idea implied of course is that conspiracy is a far more elusive jackelope than human ineptitude.
Seems true doesn’t it?  After all, we all know stupid people, but in truth we probably don’t know very many outright evil people (though we tend to use good/evil hyperbole in vain in our rhetoric) so the statement resonates with our own experience.  Adherence to this self-evident postulation then allows us to dismiss the very notion that there might be a conspiracy afoot because we are very well-acquainted with human error, and its (counter-intuitively) more comforting to believe human beings are stupid rather than clever.
Well, the problem here is that we tend to associate conspiracy with evil, when more accurately it could be described as “Competitive Deselection.”  In fact, conspiracy itself rarely (if ever) amounts to more than an advantageous commercial/power consolidation decision which has pronounced detrimental impacts on others while benefiting those who perpetrate it.  Evil has nothing to do with it, its simply the ultimate expression of the behaviour demanded by the world we live in.  Namely, getting ahead at the expense of all others.
Once you demystify it and eliminate evil out of the equation, you see that so-called conspiracy exists all around us.  After all, who among us has not been screwed out of earnings or exploited or robbed?  We typically don’t attribute these actions against us to conspiracy, but this has less to do with their dissimilarity from formal notions of conspiracy (i.e. shadowy, behind closed doors, nefarious dealings) than it does with our lack of imagination when extrapolating the consequences of the actions of ourselves and others.
Another such razor, and likely the more famous of the two, is Occam’s Razor.   Although there are more nuanced aspects to this maxim, it is most widely understood as, “The simplest explanation is (often) the best.”  And sure, why not?  We can all conjure in our minds images of some complex lie that was told to us to obfuscate the truth.
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But think how easily this maxim can be manipulated to discredit alternate, often more plausible explanations.  For example, you have often heard me rail against superstitious concepts like good and evil, but they serve as much simpler explanation for human behaviour than things like systems theory or sociological studies.  So, should Occam’s Razor be applied here?
Similarly, early explanations of men in the sky (gods) are much more simplistic than concepts like gravitation, electro-magnetism et al., but should Occam’s Razor, or more accurately Occam’s Razor as it is widely (mis)understood, be applied uniformly because it sounds true?
Of course not.
Now I must qualify what I am saying by mentioning one of my favourite quotations from the samurai, Musashi“If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things”
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Fractals, dude!
It’s the difference between saying that some countries are wealthy due to better governance, mineral wealth and scientific progress, and saying that some countries are wealthy due to a global system based on differential advantage.  Notice how both explanations are very simple but only the latter serves to explain socioeconomic divisions at the regional, municipal and individual levels as well (After all, you can’t explain the financial disparity between two next-door neighbours by making reference to better governance, mineral wealth and scientific progress).  It is this simplicity, that of having a single explanation which can be applied to all levels of the phenomena being discussed which I think should be gleaned from Occam’s Razor.
Now I started out writing this post aiming to point out the inherent lies in some of our taken-for-granted turns of phrase and truisms, but it ended up being more of call to be aware of how to judiciously apply your truisms, because these statements (the ones examined and others) do hold at least a kernel of truth if nothing else.  But if you misapply truth you might as well be lying.

Best,

-Andre Guantanamo
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Sharing Scraps

My Friends,
   An earlier post from today detailed one part of my adventures from yesterday regarding the aftermath of a traffic collision.  This post could be considered its direct sequel, or perhaps a spiritual successor in that its concerns so-called “good intentions.”  However, in this case it was less about people using good intent as a mask for petty, retributive malice, and more about people honestly believing they were doing right and being obstinate toward the suggestion that there efforts might be misguided.
   As I walked away from the scene of the aforementioned collision,

More or less, exactly what I looked like walking away except I wasn’t wearing a leather jacket.

I approached that bastion of upscale retail, Jackson Square.  For those not familiar with Hamilton, Ontario, that would be sarcasm.
   Anyhow as I approached it I noticed two reps from “Because I am a Girl” soliciting sponsorship for third world girls.  One girl called to me as I was crossing the street.  I supposed I looked like an easy mark for a charity as my attire (yoga pants, yoga mat on backpack, FiveFingers shoes, lilac-coloured bandana and skateboard in tow) bespoke a left-leaning individual burdened with a goodly amount of liberal guilt.
   I let her run her pitch to me about some girl from whereverthefuck-istan who, through the efforts (money) of sponsors had risen to become the first female lawyer in her proud country.  FTR I don’t think too much of the legal profession but for this girl’s sake and since we were about to butt heads on more important issues I feigned like I was impressed by this young 3rd world girl’s achievement.  
   The chick giving me the speech, let’s call her Mary Sue, gave me the full sales pitch which included well-worn lines like:
“I’m gonna level with you, we’re out here fundraising today”
“It’s really not so much about the money” (a direct contradiction to the first line)
“Have you ever been to a developing country?” (I guess this was used as an icebreaker to gain my empathy)
When she had exhausted her supply of anecdotal stories about minor achievements in third world shit-holes (with me, all the while smiling politely and trying not to come off like a smug, cynical asshole ) she came out with it and asked me if I would like to support her cause.
I don’t know if she was taken aback by my frankness, but she asked me why so I began asking her why the hypothetical street girl turned lawyer was impoverished and she told me something indistinct about not enough schools.  When I asked her why there were no schools she said there was no one to build them.  I of course, asked why and she said she didn’t know and asked me if I knew.  Without getting too in-depth I explained (none too eloquently, as if often the case when your audience is not receptive) that the reasons for the impoverishment of the third world were structural and that in-the-box solutions like charities only helped a sick system limp on a little longer when it should be allowed to fail.  As I explained this her eyes seemed to glaze over.  I went on to talk about just like there was absolute poverty in some parts of the world there was relative poverty here in Canada which was also structural. Not grasping the distinction between absolute and relative, she started protesting that noone in Canada or the US was starving and they all had a place to sleep if they wanted it.  I wasn’t about to argue her on this point but I felt tempted to say “google any number of Indian reservations or Camden, NJ, or Detroit, MI or Baltimore, MD or Florida slavery.”  I didn’t mention these things because I wasn’t wanting to convey the notion that we should focus on domestic problems at the expense of international ones (the Libertarian platform) but rather that things are tough all over and that all of these problems are connected.  
   Like I said though she was unreceptive, and though the conversation remained cordial I don’t feel I expressed myself well.  The tragedy of the situation is that the world needs good people like her, filled with passionate intensity to do the right thing, but it needs them to be better educated about causality and what leads to poverty, crime, violence, and the abuse of females.  
   Me throwing what limited money I have at the problem is not gonna solve the problem.   That doesn’t mean that we should never use our monetary resources to help others.  By all means, buy someone a sandwich or a coffee or whatever, but understand that the more valuable gift is your time.  Real charity, that is to say, charity that actively works to bring about the day where charity is no longer required, does not require large, established foundations to redistribute cancerous debt-based currency after it has taken its cut.  It simply requires good, educated people to take account of the eventualities of their actions and modify their behaviour accordingly.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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